Older Kids: My Third Kid Hates Kindergarten Too!

Remember this guy? This sweet, cuddly, awesome 4-year-old? Well, now he's a big 5-year-old, and he's been in kindergarten for about 7 weeks. He started out with an enthusiastic bang, but now we're dealing with tears and major foot-dragging when it comes to going to school.

 

I know, I know -- I shouldn't be surprised. "Help! My Kindergartener Hates School All of a Sudden!" is one of my most popular posts -- and a very common parenting dilemma. Fact is, young children are totally different animals than "school aged" kids -- and by that, I mean 8-year-olds and up. Little kids are still developmentally more like preschoolers. And that means they're likely to change their minds about -- well, just about everything. So, starting off kindergarten all excited -- then losing steam after a few weeks -- isn't a surprise. Check out my post (and the growing comment section, with my additional suggestions) for coping ideas.

And hang in there, if you've got a balking kindergartener. Usually, if you can support your child through this tricky developmental stage, the protests wind down by Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, Happy Halloween!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

"Cutoff" Birthdays & Kindergarten Readiness: How to Decide?

Dear Dr. Heather,

My daughter turns 5 right before the “cutoff” age for kindergarten – so she’ll be able to attend, but I’m not sure she’s ready. Should we have her start this fall, or wait another year?

Sam in Philly

Dear Sam,

All over the country, parents are going through the same dilemma. For many, like those with “early born” kids, the decision is easy. For others who have “late-borns” (like yours, and my fourth child -- an October baby) -- or for those who’s kids are a tad behind, developmentally -- it’s a tough call. There’s no “magic” test for readiness, and no single developmental accomplishment that means your child is 100% ready.

Here is my basic Kindergarten Readiness Checklist of the areas I consider essential to success in the fall:

  • Enthusiasm about learning
  • The ability to speak understandably
  • The ability to listen and follow instructions
  • The desire to be independent
  • Playing well with others (most of the time)
  • Willingness to separate from parents
  • Basic letter and number recognition

Here are 3 steps to help you make your decision:

  1. Have a basic “Kindergarten Readiness” test administered at your intended school. There are many such tests available.
  2. Discuss the results -- plus the above readiness checklist -- with the important adults in your child’s life, including prospective teachers. Your pediatrician can help too.
  3. Revisit your decision over the summer. A child who’s not ready in the spring might quickly become ready in the summer.

Consider YOUR child’s readiness, and make the decision independent of the “trends” in your neighborhood. Ignore the tendency to “go along with the Joneses” – whether to “hold back” or “push ahead”. Whether your kiddo starts kindergarten this year or next is irrelevant compared to the fantastic developments that he’s gone through in the past 4 or 5 years. Remember that tiny newborn bundle they handed you that day 4 or 5 years ago? Look at your baby now! Good work, Mom and Dad!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Exciting Work -- BabyShrink's Updates

Whew, I've been busy! Make sure to check me out all month on ParentsConnect.com, the Nick Jr parenting blog. You know, "We're not perfect, we're parents." We had an awesome connection over my "Good Enough" parenting posts, and it's exciting to interact with so many of their families. It was all made possible by the fab folks at Learning Care Group -- you probably know them by their 1,000+ schools in the US, including ChildTime, Tutor Time, La Petite Academy, Montessori Unlimited, and The Children's Courtyard. I've been blogging for them on the LCG Blog Learning Together too. They have exciting plans for showing off their expertise with kids -- and they want my help. I'm honored and thrilled -- and I'll keep you posted as things develop.

I recently spent a bunch of time with the LCG folks on the mainland, creating a series of parenting videos. I'll post them here soon, and they'll also be on the LCG website. It was a wild ride, creating top-notch, scientifically-based, but accessible info for parents in the most professional, high-quality, high-tech media environment.

In the meantime, I'm expanding my Parent Coaching practice, and juggling not one, not two, but THREE kids' basketball team schedules. What the heck -- it's all good experience for my LCG writing -- they want to focus on work/life balance in the future, and my house is the perfect crucible to test out some new approaches.

Thanks for your continued support, and I hope you'll stick around to check out some of my parenting tips!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten?

Child I started BabyShrink when this cute guy had just turned 2. And now look at him -- he's the "big boy" in his pre-kindergarten class.  It was easy to decide that he'll start this fall -- he's a January-born guy, so he's already 5. And as the third child of four he's been waiting to be like "the big kids" his whole life. His baby sister might be different, though -- as October-born, we may eventually decide to hold her over for the next year. We'll see. So, how do you know if kindergarten is in the cards for your 4 or 5-year old? Despite the official-sounding "readiness tests" used, there's really no sure-fire way to know. But ask yourself if your "baby" has these skills as we move through kindergarten application season:

  • The ability to speak and be understood
  • Enthusiasm about learning
  • The ability to listen and follow directions
  • The desire to be independent, and a willingness to separate from parents
  • Playing cooperatively (much of the time). Can he handle sharing, playing, and taking turns?
  • Basic letter and number recognition

Having these skills makes it far more likely that he'll be ready in the fall. And if he's not -- that's OK too. He'll get there!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Sudden Fears in 12 to 15-Month-Old Babies

Let me tell you about a cool conversation I had the other day with my Infant Research/Rock Star Guru, Professor Joseph Campos (at UC Berkeley).  He helped me understand more about a funky phenomenon I've written about here before: The Weird, Wacky, Sudden Fears of the 12 -- 15-month old. You know: Crazy fears of the bath, bizarre fears of mustached men, and other kooky things like Fear of Flowers (I kid you not -- I've heard 'em all -- many from my own kids). As I've said before, these sudden fears are NORMAL -- but now I understand a little more about WHY.

It's a combination of what I've already written about here -- adjusting to the exciting (and scary) new world of mobility, as well as an inborn fear of sudden, unexpected unfamiliarity. Babies this age tend to freak when they see something that looks out of place -- a man with facial hair (if they're used to clean-shaven guys), dogs that suddenly bark loudly, or things that move in unexpected, uncontrollable directions (like flowers in the breeze). Turns out that adult chimpanzees also have similar fears. Interestingly, our toddlers grow out of these fears -- chimps do not. Rapidly developing baby brains are starting to compare "familiar" to "unfamiliar". It's likely protective -- which is especially needed now that the baby is toddling around, away from parents.

Sudden baby fears are also related to a similar parent frustration at this age: Resistance to car seats, strollers, changing tables, high chairs, or any similar baby-jail. Why? Because they remove the element of control from your little one -- and CONTROL is what helps to decrease baby's fears.

So here's how to cope with those intense and sometimes inexplicable fears in your young toddler: Give her as much control as possible (given safety factors, and of course your need to do other stuff, too.) Fear of the unknown and unexpected is always best soothed with CONTROL. Let baby approach (or avoid) fascinating/scary things (or people) at her own pace. Explain to her when it's time to get into the car seat -- and let her try to negotiate herself into it, if possible. (She just might do it, if you give her a minute to think it through.) Take the pressure off if she's feeling shy or fearful. And most of all: DON'T WORRY. Weird toddler fears mean nothing about future psychological adjustment (and the more YOU freak out about her fears, the more SHE'LL freak out about them.)

But on the flip side: If baby needs to get into the car seat NOW, or if she MUST have a bath tonight -- that's OK, too. Explain it to her. "I know you don't want a bath, but you have enchiladas in your hair, honey. I promise to make this as fast as possible, then we'll be all done." Be supportive and understanding -- but shampoo away. You won't do any psychological harm. The trick is to give her the general message that, WHEN POSSIBLE, you'll give her as much control as you can. But sometimes the grown-ups have to be in charge (and that's a good lesson, too).

The good news is this: These fears almost always dissipate by 18 months of age. (Then you'll be on to bigger and better things -- like Full On Temper Tantrums.) Whee!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four and Parenting Expert

1st and 2nd Graders: Is It Bullying Or Not?

 

Recently, a parent stopped me, worried about a 6-year-old "bully". The child in question -- in my opinion -- wasn't a bully, but rather a fairly typical little girl, testing out her pretty advanced verbal skills in more complex ways. Did she hurt her friends' feelings? Probably. And did the friend reciprocate by saying something mean right back? She sure did. The parent was very upset about the impact of this "bully" in the classroom -- and wanted to know what could be done to stop her. But was this truly "bullying?"

No, it wasn't. And I worry about the little girl being labeled "bully", because the word has such negative connotations. So, what IS the definition of bullying? There are many definitions, but all involve the bully being intentionally, repeatedly cruel and belittling to smaller or otherwise less powerful kids. 6-year-old girls telling each other "you can't come to my birthday party", or saying "you don't get to talk!" don't qualify as bullying. And defining normal social "sparring" as "bullying" does everyone a disservice.

Bullying has been getting some much-deserved attention in the media, and as a shrink I can attest to the terrible damage that TRUE bullying does to kids. But as an Early Childhood specialist, I know that little kids -- especially girls -- "practice" their social skills quite a lot with their classmates, and those skills need quite a bit of refining -- in 1st and 2nd grades. Teachers in those grades know that this is pretty common behavior, and gives the kids the opportunity to do some social "sparring" in a fairly safe situation. Do they need limits, structure, and guidance in the process? You bet. But labeling them "bullies" is a major overreaction.

If you have a kid in these grades (as I do -- with 4 kids, it seems someone is always going through this) -- here's what to keep in mind:

  • Kids this age need to "try out" their peer-to-peer social skills. Like lion cubs, they need to practice -- but they don't really mean any harm.
  • "Victims" at this age tend to shrug off the insults with no problem. Don't jump in to protect your cub until you see she's truly struggling.
  • Talk early -- and often -- about the little social struggles among your kids' friends. Make it a point to ask about all the details, not to get anyone into trouble -- but to help your cub think through the next incarnation of the battle. We're building "social muscle" here.
  • Role-play regular situations that crop up. Cutting in line, saying "mean" things, and "who is best friends with whom" are typical arguments. Walk through these issues with your child frequently to try out new approaches and solutions. Ask, "What might you say instead next time?"
  • Be interested, open, and empathic -- and try to hold back your parental protectiveness, unless there's something more serious going on.
  • And of course, if your child is truly being bullied -- or is, in fact, the bully -- please step in immediately to involve the teachers and other parents. This is an age where this kind of behavior can -- and should be -- nipped in the bud.

With some practice (and a little luck), you're setting the stage for your child to come to you with social problems in adolescence and beyond -- for help and support in solving ever-more complex social dramas and situations.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Parenting Tips: Talking To Preschoolers About Tragedies

The news was on, and our preschooler came into the room. Before we could turn off the TV, he saw a good stretch of footage he shouldn't have: Shootings. A deranged killer. Sobbing parents. A child murdered. "Why is that lady crying, mommy?"

Every ounce of our parenting instinct wants to wish this moment away -- to press "DELETE" on our little ones being exposed to such horrors. Erase! Rewind! Pretend like it didn't happen! They're so innocent. How to explain such a terrible, grown-up reality? Can't they stay in their little world of princesses and unicorns awhile longer?

Adding to the complexity of the situation was the presence of his 7-year-old brother and 9-year-old sister. What explanation to give them all? Our daughter jumped right in -- she had been discussing it at school. "A man who was sick in his head went to the store and shot a politician plus a whole bunch of other people!" 7-year old: "What's a politician? Like a donkey or an elephant?" 4-year-old: "Sick in his head? I was sick in my head last week! Remember mom? You took my temperature!" 9-year old: "He killed a girl my age!" 4-year-old: "Don't die, OK?"

Graduate school lists of "how to talk to kids" at various ages started swimming through my head. But how to answer the 9-year-old with her more realistic questions and fears, while not confusing the preschooler? How to explain to the 7-year-old that death for people was much more serious than finding the dead fish in his classroom aquarium that morning? How to reassure the 4-year-old that he was safe -- and so were we? And how NOT to infect them with my own fears and reactions?

I jumped into psychological triage mode. Job #1: Make sure to minimize the fear here. Explain and reassure. Job # 2: Respond to their questions -- at their level. Job #3: Fall back on our routine. Demonstrate that things haven't changed at home. Job # 4: Allow them to support each other, even as you try to correct the misinformation they may have. Siblings can be great resources for each other, giving reassurance in a way that we just can't.

If there's something big going on, and you need to stay tuned to the TV to follow anything for safety reasons, keep in mind who's watching. Mute the sound when you can, and turn it off when possible. Little kids confuse "replays" with reality, and may think things are happening over and over again.

Here are more preschooler-specific tips for talking about tragedies:

  • Don't assume -- anything. Your preschooler may completely tune out the situation. If that's the case, it's normal -- and OK.
  • Think in "fairies and pirates" language when answering questions. Your preschooler simply can't understand the world of objective reality. To him, magical thinking applies.
  • Keep it simple, and always follow up with reassurances. "Sometimes bad things happen, but Mommy and Daddy always protect you. We're all going to live for a long time, until we're very old."
  • Keep an eye out for questions coming up in different ways -- like play. We've had a lot more "shooting" games going on around here these days (despite the fact that we don't allow toy guns in the house). It gives me the chance to butt in and ask more about the games, and how they're handling things.

If your kids are having a tough time adjusting to a tragedy, make sure to ask for help sooner -- rather than later. It' far easier to help a child adjust when the trauma is new. After awhile it gets more and more difficult. Ask her doctor, teacher, or a clergyperson for a referral to someone who works with young children. Here is a nice summary by Dr. Joel Dvoskin, posted on the American Psychological Association's website:

Q. What should parents tell their children about this incident – especially since one of the dead was a 9-year-old child?

Dr. Dvoskin: Don't be afraid to talk to your kids about these events. The most important thing after any trauma is to maximize real and perceived safety for the child.... Letting kids know that they are safe is likely to help and not likely to make things worse.

Don't flood kids with too much information. The best way to decide how much information is appropriate is by the questions children ask you. Answer their questions honestly and directly, but remember that they are kids, so keep it simple (depending upon their age).

Parents should not lie to their children when talking about this tragedy. To the extent that children are unable to trust their caregivers, it is very difficult for them to feel safe.

Don't "pathologize" normal human responses to frightening events. If your children are frightened or upset, it doesn't mean there is anything wrong with them. However, if problems such as misbehavior, sleeplessness or other signs of depression or anxiety become especially severe or extreme, then seek professional help.

Limit kids' continued exposure to television coverage of the event. Depending upon their age and developmental status, they might not be able to tell if it's one event being repeated or many events. This is especially true of younger kids. Parents might even want to limit their own television watching.

Pay attention to your own fears and anger. It is unlikely that you will successfully hide your feelings from your children, who usually pay keen attention to what you say and do. Take care of yourself, and if your own feelings or behavior become extreme and problematic, don't be afraid to seek help for yourself as well.

If it is necessary to refer the child to a mental health professional, as always, step one is screening and assessment. Assess the child as a child, in totality, and in developmental context. Kids who have exaggerated reactions to what they see on TV may be kids who aren't strangers to trauma. The real question is why this event traumatized this child.... Community trauma can bring to the fore issues that were already there.

I've also included a couple of additional links below for more information. In the meantime -- stay safe.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Here is a nice guide from my colleagues at the American Psychological Association

And a helpful PDF that was written in response to 9/11 -- still very relevant to any tragedy -- that breaks down parents' responses by age range

Child Devlopment: How To Play Your Young Toddler (12-18 Months)

Those of you long-time BabyShrink readers know that my Baby #4 is now officially a toddler. She's toddling, lurching, and careening around the house like she owns the joint. And now that she's officially past her "baby" days, her brain is going through a big burst that allows her to tackle more organized and complicated projects. It's why she now enjoys "working on" toys, as opposed to just chewing on them, or looking at them.

Your young toddler can remember more now, stay focused for longer, and is eager to try out her rapidly improving motor skills. She's also getting interested in trying to imitate you. She can't "play pretend" yet -- when she picks up the play phone and jabbers on it she's not pretending to talk to grandma (yet) -- but she's imitating YOU. It's an important step towards creative play -- which is the watershed development that leads to the ability to think and work creatively all her life.

You have the opportunity to make the most of this incredible time of development. Don't make yourself nuts by thinking you have to provide a ton of educational "stuff": simple things (and not too many of them) work best. Make yourself available to play with her, when she's receptive -- strike a balance between staying out of her play, and overwhelming her with your own play agenda. Follow her lead. When she picks up the dinosaur and looks to you questioningly, use it's name -- and offer a play option. "That's a dinosaur. Do you want to put him on top of your block tower?" Acknowledge her interest, and suggest a creative direction. It's called scaffolding -- letting her set the pace, but giving her a "boost" to build up to the next level of complexity in play. But don't push it -- you're there as a benevolent observer, and part-time participant.

Be ready to add these elements to your young toddler's playtime:

* Add another character, so that the play becomes about people and relationships.

* Add another object so that things can function in relation to each other. Think prepositions -- put something On Top Of, Underneath, or Inside.

* Modify the pace of play, based on her energy level. If she's getting too wound up, introduce some slower action. If she's not interested, try something new.

And most importantly, have fun!

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Spending Holidays with Young Children: Keeping It Simple

 

Preserving the meaning of the holidays is tricky with so much pressure -- pressure to BUY, pressure to TRAVEL, and pressure to JUGGLE HOLIDAY EVENTS. The obligations start to pile up, and pretty soon we can't wait until it's all over.

Here in Hawaii, we've learned something about simplicity: Simple is better. Not always easier -- but better. As we're being bombarded with impossible holiday expectations, keep this in mind -- babies and young children don't have ANY expectations for the holidays. Everything is new to them -- even more reason to keep it simple. They can only absorb so much before they go into overload and meltdown. Admiring decorations, singing songs, and extra time with family are all it takes to make a great holiday for a young child -- and make it easier on us, too. Because kids -- especially young kids -- take their cues directly from us. So a successful holiday is mainly about OUR mood, and how it affects our kids. If we're stressed about travel schedules, dreading family reunions, and scrambling to get "the best" presents, our kids will absorb THOSE feelings about the holidays. On the other hand, if we can relax and enjoy the time off -- cooking, playing, and having fun with holiday rituals -- our kids will absorb THOSE feelings. Which sounds better?

Consider These Simpler Holiday Options:

* Fewer presents -- more thoughtfully written (and decorated) cards * Fewer "junk" holiday treats -- more time cooking real meals together * Less money spent on toys -- more time volunteering for those in need * Fewer holiday parties -- more family "cocooning" time

Aloha and Happy Holidays,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Child Psychological Development: BabyShrink's Thinking Points for Parents

Lately I've been getting a lot of requests for expert comments on baby stuff: parenting mags who want info for their stories. I've got a love-hate relationship with those magazines. They recycle the same old stuff,  and aren't in-depth enough to get down into the heart of the issue. So parents are left with a handy-dandy little checklist that MIGHT work with their child (but just as likely won't) -- and they're left doubting themselves and their parenting ability (or the development of their child.) "If National Parent Mag says this should work, why doesn't it work with my child?"

Most of the writers are simply learning right along with their readers. I recently spent 20 minutes explaining to one writer why sleep cycles (and parents' approaches to sleep) should change over time. Meaning that a 3-month-old is a totally different animal than an 18-month old, and therefore, responds way differently to sleep "training". There's no quick, "one size fits all" sleep-training answer. It hadn't occurred to this writer of a major parenting mag (a parent of a toddler herself) that since the psychological needs of a young child vary over time, so must our approaches to the various issues that come up.

This has me thinking of the simple but powerful ways that parents can consider the psychological development of their babies and young children (which really is the whole point of BabyShrink). I'm working on a book on the subject, which allows me more room to explore the issue, but for the time being I'm left with the same problem that parenting mag writers have: cramming a huge subject into a limited amount of space. So what I'll do is list some "thinking points" for you to consider in your parenting, and we can discuss further as you have questions:

BabyShrink's Thinking Points For Parents:

* Your baby's psychological needs change over time. 0-6 months is about getting oriented to the world and trying to feel safe in it. 9-12 months is a whole different ball game, and leads into toddlerhood, which is different yet again (check out "annoying toddler behaviors" under my Categories below and to the right). Vary your approach as your child goes through each stage.

* Psychological development doesn't follow a straight line. There will be "regression", and there will be progress. This is normal and expected.

* The fact that your young child CAN do something doesn't mean that she WILL do it. HAVING a skill doesn't mean your child is psychologically ready to USE it. Readiness to sleep through the night, potty training, talking, and most other issues have strong psychological components  -- handling that aspect artfully, helps your child navigate the issue more completely, and with less chance of later problems.

* Your child's temperament is a major Wild Card here. What works for an "easy" baby might be worthless for your "fussy" baby. An "intense" toddler needs a totally different approach than a "shy" one.  A "bold" preschooler needs a different approach than a more "sensitive" one.

Randomly trying new parenting "solutions" can be really frustrating. Understanding the psychology of your child, and making a parenting plan based on these "Thinking Points", is the key to finding your way with your child. If you want to to know more about how psychological development affects your parenting, and how it can best be handled given the unique temperament of your child, there are lots of ways to learn more. Click around my site, Twitter me your questions @BabyShrink, comment here, or email me at BabyShrink@gmail.com for Parent Coaching.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: When and How To Get Rid Of Your Toddler's "Comfort Thingie"

The "Comfort Thingie" -- your toddler's thumb, binkie, blanket or other "lovey" -- is a vexing problem to most parents. Usually yucky, stinky, shredded and gross, we'd love to chuck it, but Toddler would FREAK. HOW to get rid of it? WHEN is it OK to get rid of it? And WHY does she need it so much, anyway?

The Comfort Thingie is part you, that's why -- it helps your toddler transition from complete dependence to independence. It carries a bit of parental mojo along with it's stink and shreds. (And by the way, Comfort Thingies also include weird repetitive toddler behaviors -- cramming blanket corners up her nose, twiddling a lock of hair, walking around with her finger in her belly button, or even head-banging to get to sleep -- all qualify as Comfort Thingies.)

Tips for Getting Through The Thingie Phase

  • * Know that it’s completely normal, age appropriate, and promotes independence
  • * Show that you respect the Thingie, no matter how disgusting
  • * Try to understand the draw of the Thingie so that you can understand what comforts your child – these things tend to be idiosyncratic, and reflective of the child’s enduring temperament and personality and preferences
  • * Consider keeping the Thingie. If it's OK with you, a tattered blanket never hurt anyone. There's no psychological reason to force the issue. She'll eventually lose interest, and then you can keep it to give her her when she has her own babies. (Awwwww......)
  • * Pace Yourself – and your child. Don’t try to give up multiple Thingies at once (for instance, don’t eliminate the bottle, binkie, and crib simultaneously) and back off of the potty training until any Thingie Phase-Out has become routine.
  • * Talk to your toddler about how the Thingie helps, so that she can begin to understand (and internalize) it’s power
  • * Identify stress in your toddler’s life, and try to decrease it.
  • * Don’t even suggest giving up the Thingie until the age of 3. Don’t waste your parental capital on this one, as often, the Thingie will be given up naturally. After 3 it will be easier to negotiate with your child for a “Thingie Phase-Out Plan”.
  • * Rule out any medical explanation (especially in the case of head-banging) – just to be sure.

And finally… Look Away and Breathe Deeply – you might as well start practicing now! Your ability to pick and choose your parental battles will be key to getting through all the phases of your child’s development with your sanity (relatively) intact. The Comfort Thingie -- while certainly disgusting now -- resolves naturally in typically developing children.

Here's more on how to know when, if, and how to transition your toddler away from her Binkie. And if you still have questions, email me at BabyShrink@gmail.com, or hit the Parent Coaching button above. I'd love to talk with you about your toddler's stinky habit, and help you decide how to deal with the situation.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: How To Handle Sibling Rivalry

I love it when parents say, “Our toddler is SO happy that she has a little baby brother. She seems to have accepted him totally!” Just wait.

Sibling rivalry usually doesn’t become a problem until your toddler has to contend with a mobile baby --one who gets into her stuff, pulls her hair, and otherwise competes with her in the Zone of Stardom she previously owned in the family. When that happens, all the harmony that existed in the home evaporates, replaced by screams of “MINE!”, “HE HIT ME!”, “STOP TOUCHING ME!”, and “AAAAAGGHHHHH!”

It’s pretty upsetting, to see it in action. Our fierce protectiveness of the baby kicks in, and it’s made worse by the fact that the offender ALSO belongs to you. “How COULD she? Am I raising a sociopath? What have I done wrong?” We worry.

First of all, it’s important to understand how painful it is for your toddler to have to share you with a sibling. Here’s an analogy: Your partner comes to you and says, "Honey, I love you SOOOO much that I've decided to get another partner JUST LIKE YOU -- to live with us, be taken care of by me, and to mess up all your stuff. Isn't that GREAT?!" Not really. In fact, pretty sucky. That's how your toddler feels (at least some of the time).

And yet: The sibling relationship has the potential to be profoundly important. Think about it: We have the longest relationship of our lives with our siblings. Siblings can understand each other like no one else, because of the shared, early experiences of our families of origin. For these reasons, we WANT our kids to get along.

Know this: Parenting a toddler AND a baby who are fairly close in age (anything less than 3 or 3 1/2 years apart) is really, really hard. In fact, IT IS THE MOST DIFFICULT THING I HAVE EVER DONE.

I’m here to give you two messages: 1) Don’t worry – it’s common and typical for toddlers, little kids, and even big kids to fight like cats and dogs. It’s a drag for parents, and not usually anything to worry about, BUT, 2) we have our work cut out for us, if we want to maximize the potential good relationship between our kids. There are lots of things we can do to make it smoother – maybe not so much now, but for the future.

That said, keep these things in mind:

• Safety, of course, is Job One. Never, EVER, leave a baby alone with your toddler (at least up to age 4), even for a second. The toddler can't help herself -- and you're not allowed to get mad at her if she starts hitting while you're not looking. She’s just too young for you to expect more.

Adopt a "matter-of-fact" attitude. In normal circumstances, your toddler isn't a sociopathic maniac, and your baby isn't a traumatized victim. Baby is tougher than you think, and Toddler is less evil than you fear.

Expect your toddler to TRY to hammer away at the baby -- it's simply human nature – but let everyone know you won’t allow her to hurt the baby. Your mission is to convey this: “I can’t let you hurt the baby. Tell me you’re mad, but hitting isn’t allowed. It looks like you’re mad because Baby got to sit next to me. Am I right?” Guide the interaction towards talking. This is the perfect crucible to grind out the issue of talking about feelings – instead of acting them out. Political correctness, manners and grace come much, much later (ages 6, 7 and beyond). In the meantime, expect to be there as protector -- and try not to get disappointed, worried, or critical of your toddler. She's just really bummed about having to share you.

Resign yourself to breaking up fights -- sometimes constantly. I know it feels like you're a referee all day sometimes, and it's easy to worry about the future implications of the sibling relationship. "Will they always attack each other like this?!" They might, for a really long time -- and that might actually be a good thing. Family is the pressure cooker of life, and siblings have the opportunity to work out lots of life's big issues together: Sharing, patience, and cooperation.

But you've got to emphasize the positive. When they DO get along -- notice, praise, and reward. "What nice sharing, you two! Wow, what a lovely time you're having together. That looks really fun." Even if it's only a brief interlude in the action, make a point of praising.

Finally, make it a point to regularly schedule “special time” with each of your kids – ideally, with each parent, separately and together – to get some time where that one kid can be the focus. Nothing fancy -- even if it’s just a trip to the market while the baby is home with grandma, it will help.

Smoothing out the rough edges in their relationship -- over and over -- will eventually help them create a stronger relationship.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert Sign up for my Newsletter and Follow Me:

Teaching Your Children About Money Good Financial Values

There's lots of talk (and worry) about money these days, and we're all thinking about our families' budgets. My friend and colleague Dr. Brad Klontz talks about financial well-being, and how it doesn't "just happen". Like part of any healthy lifestyle, there are skills to be learned, bad habits to be eliminated, and good attitudes to be built. The good news for your family is that you can start the process out in a good way at even the youngest of ages.

Age 2-3 Your children will start to internalize your money attitudes every time you discuss (or argue about) household expenses or take a trip to the grocery store.  Be conscious about spending and Use Your Words with your little ones. "Hey! Our favorite cereal is on sale. That's a great price! Let's get an extra box today."

Age 3-5 Build an awareness about money -- actual coins and bills. In our house, we've gotten the kids those inexpensive State Quarters collecting kits, and they're excited to look for the coins, trade for ones they need, and show them off to friends. They also learn cool things about the States. Also, have them help you plan your shopping list, and make them responsible for holding the list and "checking" it. Make up a computer list of regularly purchased items and a little picture of the item next to it, printing out a new one each shopping trip. Your preschooler can color in the things you need that week and keep track of it in the store.

Age 6-7 Now you can start talking about the price of things, saving, and allowance.  Include them in plans to save for special purchases, help them donate to good causes, and support "lemonade stands" and other budding entrepreneurship.

Parents But the most important job is ours. Money is the main reason for couples' arguments and divorce. This issue is worth your time and effort, people: Take stock of your financial problems, and how your attitudes are involved. Examine the weird money "scripts" from your family of origin. Challenge assumptions like "it's bad manners to talk about money". Get yourself in the habit of good financial behaviors. I highly recommend Dr. Klontz's books on the subject, which are easy to read, yet powerful. Check them out here.

And finally, GIVE. Every religion and moral/ethical tradition talks about the needy and the importance of giving. Use Your Words to model gratitude for what your family has. Help your child pick a cause and put aside a small amount of her savings to her cause on a regular basis. Carry it through by showing her how you donate the money. Make visits to learn about the cause and help in person, if possible.

Happy Saving!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

How the Economic Downturn Makes Us Better Parents

Families have been hit hard by the recession -- I see it every day in my practice. But you'd think that wealthier parents would be having an easier time than they are. Instead, they're scrambling. Because parents who relied on money to raise good kids had their priorities messed up, and now they're getting their assumptions challenged. I'm talking about the competitive, "keeping up with the Joneses" kind of parenting that results in this kind of stuff:

  • Trying to find the "perfect" stroller
  • Getting on a years-long wait list with the "best" preschool
  • Overscheduling even young children, from "Mommy and Me" to "enrichment" classes
  • Parents not having any adult life (or getting any sleep) because their lives are 100% kid-focused

But even for those of us who weren't ever considered "wealthy", there's a lesson here about priorities, and what it truly takes to be a Good Enough parent.

When you take money out of the equation, all of the extra garbage is drained out. And parents who are used to parenting by spending are forced to start parenting by being.

Being with the kids -- just hanging out. Getting to know their temperaments, tendencies, personalities and foibles. Helping them learn about themselves, and how to  be a good person. And helping them to learn about money -- what it CAN buy, what it CAN'T buy, and how to make budgeting and saving fun.

This is a really good thing. Because your kids don't need lots of money to grow into happy, healthy, productive human beings. They need YOU -- your interested time and attention.

I know by experience, people. I'm not much of a shopper, but I LOVE baby gear. I've spent 10 years searching for "the perfect stroller", and wasted tons of money on the 7 or 8 strollers moldering away in the Stroller Cemetery in our garage. But none of our four babies ever loved being in ANY stroller, and if I had just waited to get to know them a bit before I started buying, I could have saved a ton of cash. Patience and careful thought are worth a lot -- in life, and in parenting.

It starts at the earliest ages. In our family, we've discovered that toys, balloons and candy shouldn't get bought at the market as an incentive for good behavior. Toddlers in our family get told, "Let's put the balloon away now that we're done shopping. The balloon lives here -- let's say bye bye to the balloon." When they don't expect a lot of buying as young children, they enjoy the stuff we DO buy much more.

This is an opportunity to re-focus on the simple (but powerful) fact that it's US, not our "stuff", that make our kids into great human beings. Staying home, cooking together, reading, and running around outside is not only cheaper, it's a better way to focus on the enduring priorities of parenting.

And in the process, we get to know ourselves better, too.

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Enter to Win Free Parent Coaching, BabyShrink Style!

Got a baby, toddler, or preschooler -- and a dilemma? Want some feedback -- geared towards your hopes, needs and family style?

I've helped thousands of families, and by popular demand, I'm opening Parent Coaching up to my BabyShrink audience. To kick it off, I'm launching a contest. Sign up by commenting below -- tell me why YOU deserve a free BabyShrink double session with me -- one hour, by Skype, by phone or in person -- a $150 value. Be as detailed as you can. Tell me:

Your child's exact age and your specific problem ~

What you've tried that hasn't worked ~

Anything else that might be impacting your child (health, family changes, etc).

Remember: Parent Coaching is NOT therapy -- just real-world solutions for everyday families. All of my suggestions are based on solid science -- plus my experience as a Parenting Psychologist, and raising 4 young children. Entries will be accepted in the comments section of this post until MONDAY, OCTOBER 4. And if you don't need Coaching, please VOTE for your favorite entries by commenting too.

I'd love to talk to you in person and help you out of your dilemma. Enter now, and I hope to talk with you soon!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather

The BabyShrink

Kindergarten Haters And Dumb Potty Training Rules in Preschool

Very Common Problems. We bloggers check our blog traffic to see how many "hits" we're getting. My software also tells me how you got to me -- what you entered into the search or URL line to get to BabyShrink -- and this is where it gets interesting. This time of year, I get a lot of searches that look like this:

SHOULD+I+SNEAK+MY+TODDLER+INTO+PRESCHOOL+IF+SHE+IS+NOT+FULLY+ POTTY+TRAINED?

AND

MY+KINDERGARTENER+HATES+SCHOOL+WHAT+SHOULD+I+DO? The demand is so strong for these topics that I'm re-running these 2 posts together. So without further ado, here's my post on potty training rules in daycare and preschool - you'll see that I have some pretty strong opinions.

And here's my post on what to do if your poor little kindergartener decides that they would rather NOT be a big boy or girl anymore and stay home after all.

I've been there more than once myself, so I can sympathize. Check out those posts and let me know what you think!

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Toddler Behavior: "Perfectionism" in A 2-Year Old?

Longtime reader Katie has asked me about her baby before. But now that her daughter is an honest-to-goodness toddler, there are new questions about perfectionism. Babies don't care about "the rules" -- toddlers do. And so a new struggle with "doing it right -- by myself" begins: "I DO IT MYSSEF!"

Dear Dr. Heather,

For the past few nights my daughter has insisted on putting her pajamas on herself. This would be great, except she can't quite get it by herself and ends up getting really frustrated. However, she gets even more angry and upset when I try to help her. I end up being torn between my desire to let her learn to do it herself and my desire to get her to bed at a decent hour. Usually she genuinely needs a few small helps to get the pajamas on, but I try to let her do as much as possible by herself.

This also is a symptom of a larger problem - what I perceive to be a growing perfectionism on her part. For example, if one cheerio from her bowl falls on the floor she will not eat another one until it is picked up. She also is very definite about using the right words for things - she just corrected me that the noise we heard was an "airplane" not a "plane." Having struggled with perfectionism myself, I worry a lot that I might pass it on to my daughter, or that she might spontaneously develop it on her own since she seems to have that kind of personality. Do you have any advice that might help?

Katie

Hi Katie,

Your daughter is just now learning that things can be done "just so". She didn't care before, and she's experimenting with it now. It's totally common and normal. It's also part of the control trip that goes along with toddlerhood. Just how far can she take this control thing? She's exploring those boundaries. It's also part of her growing sense of independence -- wanting to do it herself. A good thing, yes?

But it's not always possible for her do it herself. So, the advice is -- allow her to do it her way, WHEN IT IS REASONABLE. Give her options and choices ahead of time to try to limit the struggles that may come up. You are totally allowed to step in and be the boss when you need to -- don't feel bad about it, just matter-of-fact. But allow her the independence when you can. For rituals that take forever and get in the way of other activities: plan in advance -- give her a lot of extra time in the evening for putting on jammies, and give her a lot of praise for getting steps right herself. Try to leave her to her own devices to explore her skills. Tell her to ask you for help when she gets frustrated, but don't go overboard and do the whole thing for her. She may end up frustrated anyway, but that's OK. Rescue her when she's at her limit. I think you might also be nervous about some kind of impending red flag for perfectionism, because of your own history and tendencies. Rest assured that it's normal at this age. You have the opportunity to help her live with imperfection, as well as to explore her new skills. If she is suffering from it when she is starting school, then you can start to wonder if she might need some intervention. But for now -- it sounds fine.

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink

Child Development: Why Your 9-Month-Old Baby Is So Difficult All Of A Sudden

I had an amazing conversation with one of the world's foremost infant researchers last week, Dr. Joseph Campos. He's at Berkeley, where he's churned out tons of scientifically rigorous studies about the developmental changes in infancy. He's come up with some transformative ideas about babies, the upshot of one being that crawling causes your baby to become your little social partner, for the first time. No longer just a passive lump in the social world, now she's able to start to understand some of what's going on inside your mind. She understands how important you are to her, and seeks your emotional support, presence and encouragement as she starts to scoot out into the world under her own power. She now gets reassurance from your presence and your emotions -- your facial expressions and body language -- not just from physically holding her. Super Cute, and Super Challenging

The flip side of this is that it also causes clinginess, fussiness, and sleep problems -- some of the major complaints of parents at this stage. Turns out, crawling out into the wide world is fascinating -- and terrifying. Your little adventurer gets it now -- that as much as she wants to venture out on her own, she desperately needs you, and is panicked that she'll lose you somewhere along the way. As Dr. Campos said to me, the baby's drive for independence is equally matched by her fear of it.

So to you fellow parents of 9 to 12-month-old babies out there: I know it can be a challenging, difficult stage. Your little bug seems content to scramble around the house one minute, then wails in panic the next. What used to be stable sleep habits are now in a shambles. Feeding --and nursing -- has become an unpredictable struggle -- and separations are exceptionally difficult. And forget diaper changes! What a wrestling match! Immmobility is the enemy to her now -- being restrained in any way is bound to be a fight. High chairs, strollers and car seats are demon baby torture devices. They keep her from exploring her brave new world.

What to do? Re-think your daily tasks with this knowledge in mind. Everything will take a little longer, as your baby goes through this unpredictable (but temporary) stage. Some days she may need you constantly. But don't worry -- when you've finally reached the end of your rope with your little Clingon, she'll start to feel "refueled", and venture out again -- allowing you to catch up on that laundry and email. And make sure you get some help with nighttime wakenings -- you'll need extra rest too, since you're up again with a fussy baby -- but don't forget to reinforce the sleep routines that have worked well in the past. She'll eventually remember what her job is, at night -- and now that her memory is better, she can hold on to her internal image of you a bit longer, giving her some comfort, despite being away from you to sleep. Feel some reassurance knowing that the earlier -- and stronger -- your baby shows separation anxiety, the sooner it resolves. Lots of parental support and understanding help her get through this challenging -- but remarkable -- stage.

Dr. Campos was generous and encouraging in my BabyShrink book-writing project, and I had a blast geeking out with him, picking his brain about the amazing new developmental capacities in normal 9-month-old babies. What a great experience! Now, please excuse me -- I've got a 9-month-old baby clinging to my leg.

Aloha,

Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Toddler Behavior: What Do You Do When A Baby Prefers One Parent Over The Other?

Dear Dr. Heather, Our 25-month-old granddaughter has an unusually strong attachment to her mother.

Don't Take It Personally, Dad.

Her parents have been very responsive to her since her birth. Our toddler is easy with other people including her regular caregiver, grand-parents, other extended family and just about everyone else. The problem is that when her mother is around she has a strong preference for her, to the exclusion of most others. This happens about 60% of the time.

Her mother and father are gentle and kind and fun-loving. They respond to her emotions and explain the world to her. They are consistent with their house “rules” and explain the world to her so that things make as much sense as possible. She is a bright, articulate, inquisitive, active little girl and appears to be developing normally. Again, the problem is just that she clings to tenaciously to her mom. This is trying on her dad and also tiring for mom.

Any tips on how to reduce the clinging and increase her involvement with others when her mother is present?

Thanks very much.

Grandma ~~~~~~

Dear "Grandma",

What you're describing is the sign of a healthy attachment to her mother. Babies at this age have a hard time being in intense relationships with more than one person at a time. Strong parental preferences are COMMON. Unpleasant at times, inconvenient often, but COMMON and NORMAL, at this age. The first step is understanding it, the next step is rewarding her when she works well with her father, you, or other adults. She should be gently encouraged and praised for steps in the right direction, but never scolded if she prefers mom, since this will only work against you.

Your granddaughter is at a stage of venturing out into the world, and then coming back to her "base of comfort" as needed to "refuel", emotionally. As she gains confidence this will naturally abate. Also, as she grows closer to age 3, she will be more curious about the different activities her father and you can share with her, and this will help too.

I can certainly relate, as I am currently on both ends of the preference spectrum with various of my own children. I'm top of the list with my 9-month-old and 4-year-old, and bottom of the totem pole with my 7 and 9-year-olds -- Daddy is their current favorite. All of us need to be understanding about the temporary preferences that our children express -- please don't take it personally, nor should her father. Your time (and his) will come...I promise!

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink Mom of Four, Parenting Expert

Dr. Heather in Parents Magazine, August Issue

See me on page 191 Thanks to Parents Magazine and Sharlene Johnson for giving me the opportunity to be the "Q and A" expert on a

topic we're all familiar with...The Dawdling Toddler. Pick up a copy anywhere magazines are sold, and let us know YOUR suggestions for getting your toddler out the door in the morning.

Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink